News Column

Florida Hispanic Voting Rights Case a Duel Over Data

May 13, 2014

By David Damron, Orlando Sentinel

Hispanics accuse Florida's Orange County leaders of diluting Latino political power. (file photo)

Despite a "wave" of Hispanics moving to Orange County, elected leaders "made it harder" for them to get elected when it redrew its political borders, plaintiffs' attorney Juan Cartagena told a federal judge Monday at the opening of a voting-rights lawsuit.

Orange County's lead attorney countered that voters have elected Latinos to county offices in districts with fewer Hispanic voters than today -- and despite what the plaintiffs want, it may be legally impossible to create a majority-Hispanic district.

In the suit, local Hispanics accuse Orange leaders of diluting Latino political power. The New York City civil rights group representing them, LatinoJustice PRLDE, called its first witness, who said Hispanics are a large and cohesive enough group to have a majority district.

The plaintiffs next must show that Latinos vote for similar candidates, and that the white majority votes as a bloc and could defeat minority candidates.

However, a scheduling snag could derail the plaintiffs' early legal strategy because their next available major witness is not available to testify until Wednesday.

That did not please Chief Judge Anne C. Conway, who was ready to hear that witness's testimony sooner.

"That's pretty poor planning on your part," said an annoyed Conway, who will decide the case.

Assistant County Attorney Linda Brehmer Lanosa spent Monday trying to undermine plaintiff witness Theodore Arrington, a lead expert for the U.S. Justice Department in a similar, successful lawsuit against Osceola County in 2006.

Arrington's report to Conway argued that a Latino-majority district was possible in Orange. Lanosa challenged that and noted his lack of experience factoring citizenship rates, and other limits of the population data he used. Arrington said he did a "methodologically conservative" analysis, which at times relied on data that likely undercounted Hispanics in Orange.

Source: (c)2014 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.) Visit The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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